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Since the loss to Purdue in Alaska, Duke has been coalescing as a
team, first defensively, then as J.J. Redick and Daniel Ewing recovered from
injuries, offensively as well. And Chris Duhon has done a brilliant job
runnng the team, and Luol Deng has shown that he has not just immense potential
but immense impact immediately. Still, as great as all those assets are -
and that's not to forget Sean Dockery, Shavlik Randolph, Lee Melchionni, and
Nick Horvath, who, we suspect, has had a really big impact on this team behind
the scenes - when Shelden Williams turns into a tower of power inside,
There have been glimpses of it in recent games, some of it inhibited by
periodic foul trouble, but against Wake Forest, Williams was a monster, leading
Duke to an 84-72 win and sole possession of first place in the
conference.. He came close to scoring a triple double, with 16 points, 14
boards, and eight blocked shots. Six of those boards, impressively, were
offensive (Wake's Jamal Levy had eight offensive boards and 11 overall, also a
damn good day's work). He intimidated people inside and changed a number
of shots. We've commented before on being startled last season at how weak
his fundamentals appeared to be last season, particularly offensively, but
whoever is working with him - Wojo? - has done an extraordinary job, and of
course that's not to discount his own hard work. One of the little things
we've noticed about him lately is how he always has his hands up when he's
going to block a shot. In other words, when he goes up, his hand is already at
shoulder height. It makes it a lot harder to foul that way, and your hand
is already pretty much in place, meaning you don't have to be freakishly quick
to block a shot. Watch him next chance you get - it's really impressive,
and he's getting a lot of blocks because of that.
Having a talented shotblocker, in classic basketball theory mostly as handed
down by the mighty Boston Celtics of yore, means perimeter defenders can
overplay, because if their man gets by them, there's someone else to catch
him. Duhon alluded to this after the game, saying that "you just know that if ever there's a time that a guy gets around you, there's No. 23 behind you to knock it away. That's his job - to protect our basket - and he did an amazing job of that today."
Williams has some things to work on - his offense, while vastly improved, is
still not flawless. His free throw shooting is erratic. But as Coach
K says, he has arrived as a player, and he'll improve from here. If he
keeps playing at this level, he's getting into Kermit Washington/Maurice Lucas
territory. Not bad.
Chris Duhon had a huge game, with a career high 14 assists.
Additionally, he helped to hold hotshot rookie Chris Paul to seven points and
seven assists. Skip Prosser said after the game that "I think many people who think he didn't play well last year in many aspects are tragically misinformed, people who don't know the nuances of the game. They're good at reading the stat sheets, they realize he didn't shoot well from three-point range. But he runs their team. As we told Chris Paul, 'He's a senior, you're a freshman. This is a great challenge for you.' As maligned as Duhon has been, which I think is incredibly inane, [Duke] has won a heck of a lot of basketball games with Chris Duhon running the show. Bottom line, that's what you're supposed to do as a point guard, get your team to win the game. I think he's a very good player. We're hoping that Chris Paul and our younger guys develop into that kind of a player."
Well put, coach!
As much as we enjoyed watching Shelden Williams dominate - and he did; Eric
Williams only got seven points and five rebounds - our favorite block of the day
was Luol Deng's monster mash on Vytas Danelius. That was a powerful
Deng continues to step up his game; if you watch any particular outing, he
might a) block shots; b) hit threes; c) rebound; d) defend guards and centers
effectively; e) make wonderful passes; f) draw charges, and g) lead the
break. He did all of those thing against Wake, and did them all
well. His only problem of late is with turnovers, but those typically
could be attributed to the level of defense he's being exposed to in the
ACC. He'll figure all that out soon enough.
The healthy returns of Redick and Ewing have made it really difficult to
defend the Devils. Redick can shoot as soon as the bus parks, and Ewing'
offense is really picking up now that he's recovering from his foot injury.
Someone will take Duke's measure soon, but it's going to take a tremendous
effort, and if Williams continues to improve this rapidly, then the sky's the
A few comments about Wake Forest. We really like Skip Prosser. We
partly like him because he always sounds so professorial. We can't
remember the last coach who used "hence" in his public comments.
We also like the fact that although they have had tough luck this year, mostly
due to injuries, no one has ever whined or complained. That's the
height of professional decorum. We also really liked the fact that Wake
kept coming. They showed a lot of guts today in various ways, and were
valiant in defeat. They'll be fine.